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We are family
Total Fest began at Jay’s Upstairs in 2002 after founder Josh Vanek decided to put on a last-minute show with just a handful of bands. That lineup featured Bellingham’s Federation X, fronted by Bill Badgley. Missoula fans loved the group’s four-string guitars, tuned low, and its menacing brand of muddy rock. Federation X returns this year with even more of a reputation. Those who missed their original performance—or the one they played for Total Fest in 2008—are surely aware of how its sound has been influenced by another storied Northwest band, Karp.
Lana Rebel is another performer with deep Total Fest roots. Rebel has been part of the Missoula event in various incarnations, including Juanita Family and Friends, Lana Rebel and the Broken Promises, and just plain Lana Rebel armed with an acoustic guitar. She’s a little bit country, but with a dark, sorrowful edge that fits just fine into a lineup of doom metal. This year she’s back for the first time since 2010 and performing in yet another incarnation, alongside guitarist/singer/saw player Kevin Michael Mayfield.
Oddballs of all kinds
We’re not trying to make anyone feel like an outsider, but every year Total Fest has a few oddballs. These are performers who, like Lana Rebel, don’t quite sound like the punk or psych bands that seem to fill Total Fest’s stages.
A few different bands fit the oddball category this year. Thrones, aka Joe Preston, is expected to eschew his usual heavy guitar work for an electronic set. Deaed Language, an Olympia hip-hop artist, weaves in a grizzled Appalachia sound to his politically driven raps. The Funeral and the Twilight return with gothic-rock that will make you want to sip beer out of a goblet. And Benjamin Von Wildenhaus, guitar player for Federation X, plays a solo show of trippy surf guitar that evokes the 1960s cult classic BBC series “The Prisoner,” in which a secret agent is abducted by faceless warders to a creepy village.
Many happy returns
Gay Witch Abortion is not some magical incantation that will turn Pat Robertson into dust—at least we don’t think it is. No, Gay Witch Abortion is a Minneapolis duo that plays heavy, merciless rock. The band intrigued Total Fest audiences last year and returns for a second run.
Another Minneapolis band, The Blind Shake, has toured through Missoula a handful of times, including Total Fest X, and never disappointed. The band’s captivating live act involves no antics or costumes, just a mesmerizing onslaught of shimmying rock trimmed with scuffed-up surf riffs and sludge-filled interludes.
Other returning bands include fellow Twin Cities band Buildings, Seattle’s The Trashies, San Francisco’s Kowloon Walled City, Portland’s Guantanamo Baywatch, Olympia’s The Narrows and, of course, Swamp Wolf.
Finally, Melbourne, Australia’s Dead somehow returns to Montana despite the distance (roughly 8,500 miles). The band is delightfully doom-filled, with humorous song titles such as “You Just Lost My Appetite.” So what’s the Missoula connection? The group’s latest album, Thundaaaaah!, was released by local label Wäntage USA, which makes them honorary Missoulians in our book.
Every year we warn that you’re going to fall in love with some band you didn’t know much about before Total Fest commenced. You’ll wake up the next morning—or, um, afternoon—wondering how you could possibly feel so tied up in knots, until you realize it isn’t the beer that has you wrecked. It’s love. Full-on, unrepentant, boots-to-the-gut love.
Slut River already has our heart’s attention. Anna McDermott’s snarls evoke Polly Watson from Crimson Sweet. Red Fang is another. The band’s “Prehistoric Dog” music video, where it plays among a pile of beer cans before invading a live-action role-play sword fight, serves as a pre-fest valentine.
Who else could make our hearts flutter this year? The Constant Lovers, a Seattle band that used a stick of butter to great effect on its True Romance album cover? Perhaps Seawhores, an experimental outfit from Minneapolis known for its live sets? Or Mr. Dad from that hardcore mecca, Minot, N.D.? Or will it be Tad Doyle’s band, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, whose “Fires Burn Dim in the Shadows of the Mountain” sounds like what you’d hear from the depths of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Mordor? Just beware that love always strikes when you least expect it.